A few weeks ago the main story out of the AL East was “how will the Yankees compensate for the loss of Aroldis Chapman?” Chapman, the cuban fireballer acquired by New York to complete a three-headed monster at the end of games, was suspended 30 games for his role in domestic violence allegations. He is expected to be activated the second week of April.
Initially, the Yankees were at a disadvantage in the bullpen, but now the entire division finds itself needing players to step up to fill the void of injuries, retirements and suspensions.
Yankees: Aroldis Chapman – Suspension
Who Will Fill the Void?: The direct answer is Andrew Miller, who will assume the same closing duties he had last season when he was voted reliever of the year. With Chapman suspended and Justin Wilson traded over the winter, the Yankees will need someone besides Dellin Betances and Chasen Shreve to perform in April. New York has its choice between a slew of minor league arms with upside, but Johnny Barbato, who was acquired this winter, is the one with the best spring so far. Barbato has thrown 6.1 innings and struck out eight batters while posting a .167 BAA and 0.79 WHIP.
Rays: Brad Boxberger – Injury
Who Will Fill the Void?: That’s two closers in the AL East who will miss April, and in Boxberger’s case, possibly at least half of May. The Rays will likely go closer by committee with Danny Farquhar having former (brief) closer’s experience. Xavier Cedeno and Alex Colome are two more arms who could step up in late innings, with the latter potentially designated to lefty matchups late and Cedeno acting in more of an eight or ninth inning role until Boxberger’s return.
Who Will Fill the Void? Soriano was signed to a minor league deal, so it’s impossible to say what sort of impact he could have made, especially with Drew Storen and Roberto Osuna at the back of the bullpen. Still, the veteran has had success almost everywhere he’s gone and took away some potential depth from the Jays when he announced his retirement after some VISA issues. Loup is a lefty reliever the Jays are counting on and his timetable to return is unclear, but should come sometime in April. The natural solution is for the Jays to rely a little more heavily on Brett Cecil, a lefty setup man, to begin the year.
Orioles: Brian Matusz – Injury
Who Will Fill the Void?: Another late inning arm with a spring injury. Matusz had a setback and is unlikely to be ready for Opening Day despite a recent cortisone injection. The left-hander is gone for 50 high leverage innings every year. The Orioles will freshly extended, Darren O’Day, as its exclusive setup man this season so the late innings aren’t necessarily a concern in the short-term. Pitchers like Jason Garcia, Chaz Roe and TJ Mcfarland may have to step up as the year progresses and add valuable relief innings when they themselves are healthy or called up.
Who Will Fill the Void?: A major part of Boston’s winter was revamping a pitching staff which was ranging from dreadful to average last season. One of its prized winter acquisitions, Carson Smith, is injured and may miss extended time. The Sox still have Junichi Tazawa, Koji Uehara and also traded for Craig Kimbrel, so the late innings won’t be much of a concern early on. Currently, Matt Barnes and Roenis Elias may be most relied upon in the case of an extended injury to eat middle relief innings compensating for the innings Smith would have thrown had he been healthy.